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Some Corporate Leaders at Davos Express Unease About ESG

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jan 19, 2023


The World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos provides an opportunity for some of the world’s leading businessmen and policymakers to discuss issues of common concern. One of them this year, the New York Times reported, is environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing.

Specifically, the concern is not that the concept is unimportant, but that it is too broad and distracting, as well as politically charged, executives told Times reporters. Unmet expectations have caused a backlash in some cases, most notably against BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. The firm’s chief has been subjected to personal attacks and his firm has been accused of boycotting energy companies and “woke” investing, despite its large investments in hydrocarbons.

“It’s not business anymore, they’re doing it in a personal way,” he said at a WEF event earlier in the week. “And for the first time in my professional career, attacks are now personal. They’re trying to demonize the issues.”

There are real financial considerations concerning ESG, such as the effect of climate change on the real estate business, but such considerations have been obscured by the politicization of the issue, some ESG supporters told the Times.

Debate also exists over certain measurement metrics, some said, noting that a lack of agreement could possibly lead to greenwashingwhich Investopedia defines as "conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound." Leaders told the Times that much of the backlash is an American phenomenon; in contrast, the approach has been accepted more readily by Europeans.

Still, there is money to be made. ESG investing is one of the fastest-growing segments in finance; PwC forecast that ESG-related assets under management will increase to more than $34 trillion by 2026 from $18 trillion in 2021.

Despite those opportunities, the ongoing furor prompted one executive to tell the Times: “I hope ESG just goes away.”

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